Despite pandemic, Federation raises $620,000 more during 2020 annual campaign than previous year

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Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Kaplan Feldman Complex

ERIC BERGER , ASSOCIATE EDITOR

During fundraising calls for Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ annual campaign last year, the organization encountered people who previously had donated but amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, were needing assistance, recalled Julie Gibbs, the organization’s vice president of development.

“We helped connect them to resources in our community  (and were) able to provide help,” said Gibbs of Federation, which supports organizations through the local Jewish community, including the Jewish Light.

Despite the economic downturn due to the pandemic, Federation raised $10.4 million for the annual campaign and its COVID-19 Community Fund, according to the organization. That compares with $9.78 million in 2019.

“True to typical St. Louis Jewish community fashion, people stepped up and poured their hearts out in wanting to help and make a difference, so I really truly was not surprised, but I was also very proud of our community,” said Gibbs.

Still, Federation also saw a decrease in the number of donors from more than 4,200 in 2019 to about 3,900 in 2020. That continues what has largely been a continual downward trend each year since 1992. In 2015, 4,614 people gave money; in 2007, there were 7,500 donors.

In non-COVID times, the organization typically hosts annual meetings and campaign kickoff events at places like Busch Stadium and The Magic House.

True to typical St. Louis Jewish community fashion, people stepped up”

— Julie Gibbs

But like much else in the pandemic, the fundraising efforts last year took place remotely. The organization saw a significant increase in the number of people attending its annual events virtually than they typically do in person, Gibbs said. For example, 800 people attended the Women’s Philanthropy division of Federation’s annual L’Chaim event in 2019 at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton; last year more 1,000 attended the virtual L’Chaim event, “which is really large for a city our size,” added Gibbs.

As many people in the Jewish community and elsewhere faced increasing health and economic problems, the organization focused during calls to potential donors on asking whether they were managing OK during these difficult times, Gibbs said.

“We have learned through some of our calls that people were hurting and needing help,” she said. In some cases, the organization provided people with information about the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry; in one case, a donor reached out to Gibbs and said she had a relative moving to St. Louis who was destitute.

Gibbs connected him to Jewish Family Services, which oversees the food pantry and provides counseling, among other services.

“We learned a very important lesson during COVID: that the more that we share information and do the check-in calls and the wellness calls with the community donors and the more that we organize opportunities for people to get together — especially the ongoing calls among community professional leaders — the better it is for the community,” said John Greenberg, vice chair of the annual campaign.

If the threat posed by the virus continues to subside, Federation will likely employ a hybrid model for its events in the near future, Gibbs said. The 2021 campaign kickoff on June 30 will likely take place outside so some people can attend in person while others attend via Zoom.